The ambiguous decline of jihadist militancy in Yemen

A July 2018 policy paper by Dr. Elisabeth Kendall for the Middle East Institute explores the gradual development of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State in Yemen (ISY), and the conditions each organization require to succeed. Kendall analyzes the structures of AQAP and challenges the organization has faced. She also compares AQAP to ISY and considers their recent decentralizations. She urges key conflict actors to take actions to ultimately end the war and act now to restrict jihadist militancy in Yemen.

Yemen's northern wars: a bad situation gets worse

Yemen's government gave up on fighting the so-called Huthi movement (known "officially" as Ansar Allah) back in 2010, but that hasn't stopped the Huthis from getting into conflicts with other groups in Yemen's northern governorates. In recent months, Huthi fighters have fought Salafi students in the town of Dammaj, militias linked to the Islah party in other areas, and fighters alligned with the Hashid tribal confederation's leading family, Bayt al-Ahmar. Right now, the Huthis are engaged in a very bloody campaign in 'Amran Governorate, where they seem to have taken control of key towns in the al-Ahmar family's archipelago of fiefdoms.  [box icon="info"]For background on the Huthi movement, check out our segment on the origins and evolution of the movement, on episode #1 of Mafraj Radio. The Huthi segment, featuring journalist Adam Baron and scholar Madeleine Wells Goldburt, starts at 11:00[/box]

Sadiq al-Ahmar--the paramount shaykh of Hashid--and his brothers command a huge number of men at arms on their own, and they also have allies within Yemen's armed forces. One of the most troubling things I've heard today (specifically from Adam Baron and Shuaib al-Mosawa on Twitter) is that General 'Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, former commander of the infamous First Armored Division and current military advisor to President Hadi, is planning to/has already begun to involve his own forces in the conflict.

There are a few reasons why I find this possibility so worrying. First, 'Ali Muhsin is no longer officially a commander of military forces. It may be taken for granted by Yemenis and Yemen-watchers that he still has the loyalty of units from the disbanded First Armored Division (known in Yemen as al-Firqah), but on paper he is no longer their commander. The military restructuring process which followed 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh's removal from the presidency also removed several members of the former president's family from their commands, but they too are assumed to retain a degree of de facto control over those forces. If 'Ali Muhsin were to commit "his" forces to combat in 'Amran, the facade of military restructuring would be shattered; such a move could encourage other shadow commanders--‘Ali 'Abdullah's son Ahmad, for instance--to take more active and visible roles. The Saleh-commanded factions of the military fought openly against al-Firqah in 2011; that conflict could be rekindled if rival units were to be put into action in the north.

Second, and this is clearly related to the first point, 'Ali Muhsin's overt involvement in the conflict would seriously undermine the presidency and the government. Of course, Hadi's leadership is already questionable, but there are degrees of undermined-ness. For President Hadi to have one of his top advisors engage in an undeclared war on his own initiative would be several degrees worse than the current situation.

Third, it seems unlikely to me that 'Ali Muhsin could commit a portion of Yemen's armed forces to this conflict without dragging the entire state along with it. The Sa‘dah wars of 2004-2010 grew so much larger and bloodier over time because the Yemeni army created new enemies everywhere it went. Local civilians and their tribes took up arms against the army in those wars not necessarily out of love for the Huthi leadership, but because the state had threatened their lives and livelihoods by putting boots on their land. What starts as a battle between al-Firqah and Ansar Allah will almost certainly expand, and other military units in the war zone will join the battle on one side or another.

Yemen has no shortage of crises and conflicts these days, and it's easy to see each negative development as just another chapter in a never-ended story of chaos. But the situation could always get worse, and some developments and decisions have the potential to make things much worse very quickly. In my opinion, we're looking at one such development in 'Amran right now.

Military restructuring: unraveling a tangled web

Since 2011 the international community has feared a total breakdown of the Yemeni military establishment, fragmenting the armed forces to a degree where major conflict would erupt leading to a civil war. This scenario developed in April after a number of government officials defected from the government on March 21, 2011 and declared their protection of civilian protesters. Beginning in April, Yemenwitnessed a number of proxy battles between government supporters and armed militias ʻAligned to Gen. ʻAli Muhsin and the al-Islah party. This fear of total fragmentation then led to the initial GCC-led initiative for political transition in April. The back and forth game that ensued inYemen, on whether to sign the GCC initiative or not, allowed both sides to strengthen their own positions. The periphery was soon lost, or abandoned, and handed over to a number of tribal or militant groups in areas such as al-Jawf in the north, Ma’rib and Hadhramawt in the East and Abyan in the south. The province of Saʻdah, bordering Saudi Arabia, continues to remain under control of Huthi rebels under the leadership of ʻAbd al-Malik al-Huthi. This group, at war with the central government since 2006, represents a major security threat to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and stability along the border continues to depend on a delicate agreement placing renowned arms dealer Faris Manʻa as governor of the province of Saʻdah. Contacts with the rebels has prevented cross-border incursions since 2011, but has not decreased the threat to Saudi Arabia.

Obstacles for Institutional Restructuring

Fears among regional and international actors led to a re-drafting of the GCC Initiative for political transition, signed on 23 November 2011 in Riyadh, wherein priorities where set beyond the handing over of power by ʻAli ʻAbdullah Saleh to his Vice President Hadi. The top priority set to strengthen the political transition became the orderly demilitarization of cities and restructuring of the entire armed forces, not just the army. This is set to be followed by the start of a comprehensive National Dialogue process. The framework established to administer demilitarization and restructuring of the armed was organized within a military commission with equal numbers of officers from units which defected in March 2011 and those still under the control of Ministry of Defense.

The first move to implement one of the “pillars” of the GCC Initiative was the removal of General ʻAbdullah Qayran in Taʻiz and Mahdi al-Maqwalah (of Sanhan), chief of the Southern Command based in ʻAden, in January and March respectively. While General Qayran’s removal was cause for much jubilation inside Freedom Square in Taʻiz, Maqwalah’s departure left a sour taste after Ansar al-Shariʻah escalated their activity in Abyan and caused more people to flee the province to neighboring ʻAden. It has been clear to many that President Hadi and his advisors are carefully calculating their moves, amidst mounting pressure from Western governments, in order to minimize consequences from such an unpredictable balancing of personalities within the armed forces. The incident that followed the sudden announcement Saturday morning April 7th by President Hadi replacing Air Force Chief Muhammad Saleh al-Ahmar (half brother of ʻAli ʻAbdullah Saleh) is a perfect example of the difficult task. Sanʻa International Airport was closed the entire day as result of fighting within the property, which also serves as the main runway for the Air Force located in the southern area of the civilian airport. Accusations flew back and forth between loyalists to General  Muhammad Saleh, who was then appointed Deputy Minister of Defense, and airport officials. The airport re-opened on Sunday. General Saleh appears to have accepted President Hadi’s order and on 16 April he left his post and traveled to Sanhan. But the issue remains unresolved as of 21 April.

In her most recent opinion piece, Ginny Hill indicated many of the obstacles to restructuring the armed forces were anchored on continued regime competition. That is, in the context of the equation that pins ousted President ʻAli ʻAbdullah Saleh, his long-time confidant General ʻAli Muhsin (Firqahh Commander) and the al-Ahmar family on a confrontation for survival in a transitional period. Much of this competition is indeed obstructing the restructuring, but observers are also missing much of the larger picture. The military has not only been a family dominion, it forms part of the principle instrument of patronage inYemen since 1962 in the north and 1967 in the south. It would be a colossal mistake to assume that Saleh’s relatives and their regime competitors where the only ones standing in the way of a comprehensive restructuring of the armed forces. Elites from the north and south are fully dependent on the military and intelligence services for the own survival. In addition, the most difficult obstacle to overcome will be the deeply rooted tribal interests that overlay the armed forces.

Hashid and Sanhan

In this situation we must first consider the struggle for survival within the Hashid tribal confederation. Shaykh Sadiq ibn ʻAbdullah al-Ahmar, brother of Hamid al-Ahmar, is the paramount shaykh of Hashid, to which the village of Sanhan belongs by means of tribal alliance. Many attribute the rise of ʻAli ʻAbdullah Saleh and his 33 years of rule to a “deal” from 1978 between Shaykh ʻAbdullah al-Ahmar, ʻAli ʻAbdullah Saleh, and ʻAli Muhsin. This deal would protect the longstanding position of Hashid and its tribal members within the political structure of the Republic. It is then no mystery as to why Shaykh Hamid al-Ahmar has been one of the principle supporters of the ‘Youth Revolution’ of 2011. Primarily, the al-Ahmar family began to feel threatened by changes in the relationship with Saleh in the past ten years, when it was decided to prepare Ahmad ʻAli ʻAbdullah Saleh to succeed his father as president of Yemen.

This move to select Ahmad ʻAli as successor was not in itself a threat, but rather the restructuring of political relations that aimed at alienating Bayt al-Ahmar from the decision making process. Hamid began to see new blood at the presidential palace, a new patronage network that threatened his own. Such moves were also reflected in the repositioning of the Republican Guard, in particular, vis-à-vis ʻAli Muhsin’s Firqahh. During the six wars against Huthi rebels in the north the struggle between Ahmad ʻAli and ʻAli Muhsin deepened to direct conflict within al-Urdhi (headquarters for the Armed Forces) and the office of the Chiefs of Staff. The internal conflict also began to affect tribal relations. Interests of various shaykhs were threatened when some tribal areas were protected by the government while others were neglected during the war against Huthi rebels. These tribal leaders not only had interests in areas in ʻAmran and Saʻdah, but also their tribesmen were being killed without any retribution. Many shaykhs were requested to send troops to fight Huthis only to be underpaid or under equipped. While Sanhan believes to be the center of power over the past 33 years, it is Hashid who claims primacy and aims to prevent southerners from taking over a unified Republic, and its resources.

Tribal Patronage

Underneath the surface then lie the mid-level shaykhs of Hashid and Bakil (the second-most powerful tribal confederation). Many of these tribal leaders, allied to the house of Shaykhs al-Shayf and ʻAbu Ras, for example, in addition to Bayt al-Ahmar, believe that restructuring of the armed forces is a direct threat to their own individual survival. Northern shaykhs are inherently linked to an extensive patronage network with origins at the end of the northern civil war of 1962-1970. They are not just part of Saleh’s or ʻAli Muhsin’s patronage, they are part and parcel of the Republic’s patronage legacy. Many leaders may not be in government of Parliament, but they and their tribes have been vital keepers of the Republic, and if their patron is removed then they will lose all privileges, most importantly income and weapons as result of their conscripts within the various branches of the military. A comprehensive restructuring of the armed forces, beyond the removal of Saleh’s, ʻAli Muhsin’s and al-Ahmar’s relatives would also require addressing the presence of many tribal elements loyal to one side or the other. President Hadi must first calculate the consequences from removing personnel from one side quicker then the other, or removing a larger contingency from one side as oppose to the other.

President Hadi must surely be asking himself, which side do I remove first? Which will pose the least challenges? What will the one side do when elements from the other are removed? If a tribal leader with interests in the armed forces begins to feel his patron will lose in the process, they may recall their tribesmen and withdraw to their local area. This will strengthen their position in the periphery and deprive the government of authority within their territory. By withdrawing their men, they will not hold loyalty to any one until it is renegotiated, at a high price indeed. The men will withdraw with their weapons, since no one at this time is powerful enough to prevent them from doing so. How many shaykhs will opt for this choice? We don’t know. If one side is removed before the other, in proportion or otherwise, it may be clear to both patron and client that a fight against the President as proxy or against the other side directly will be in their best interest. President Hadi has everything to lose in this scenario.

At a time of deep economic crisis across the country, ignored by all sides, tribal leaders must protect their own interests in order to prevent further unemployment and deeper discontent among local populations. Patronage is not only a tool for wealth creation in Yemen, it is a way to remain relevant vis-à-vis local tribal populations and retain the prestige of hereditary titles. Reports of widespread famine in Yemenoften focus on urban populations, which suffer tremendously as result of sky-rocketing inflation, but it is in the mountain and dessert villages where hunger is merely satisfied with bread and water, or wheat (‘azid) and yogurt. Shaykhs may not spread the wealth around as evenly as people would want, but at minimum they do provide some relief to people in their villages. It is not in their own interests to allow people to starve, for they will lose the foundation of their own reputation and status. Shaykhs do not only have a dozen or so tribesmen as guards for their own protection in the public sphere, this is a way to provide ‘employment’ to tribesmen and also to strengthen their own patronage networks.

A Careful Balancing Act

As one tribal figure put it, and as much as I tried to avoid the cliché, there are three main concentric circles when dealing with restructuring of the armed forces. The first circle includes Saleh and his family, ʻAli Muhsin and Bayt al-Ahmar, in essence, Hashid and Sanhan. The second circle is referred to as the circle of corruption. This is where the patronage network extends to relatives, business associates and tribal elements. The third circle is what many refer to as the circle of hope, where many of the officers capable of constructing a modern, professional military lay. Tribal elements in the military and mature officers do see a light at the end of the tunnel, but they realize it’s a long tunnel. The GCC initiative was meant to primarily prevent a civil war in theArabian Peninsula. It managed to stave off much of the tension mounting through 2011. But the GCC deal was mainly a deal between the elite, Saleh and ʻAli Muhsin, Saleh and al-Ahmar, and Saleh and al-Islah. It failed to address the people’s demands, and left a window of opportunity for whoever can rescue those hopes for change.

At the moment al-Islah seems to be gaining ground on this front. Although protest squares are now occupied by a solid majority of supporters of al-Islah, Friday prayers continue to attract a large number of independents. This portion of society is no longer interested in the permanent, physical presence at Change Square (Sanʻa) or Freedom Square (Taʻiz), but rather makes itself available to the rally calls to protest each week. This is a great asset for al-Islah, ʻAli Muhsin and bayt al-Ahmar. They have proven their resolve and to a certain degree, their public support. In real terms, it may not mean much since Friday prayer demands are no longer based on issues espoused by large crowds in 2011. Yet, this still keeps President Hadi thinking of what the intent is and what may be the options available to Islah’s side, and to ʻAli ʻAbdullah Saleh on the other hand.

President Hadi has yet to make his mark in the public sphere, but he has moved cautiously to strengthen his position in the face of mounting pressures from all sides. The president still has much to accomplish in the short term, while his options still remain open and potentially leading to change in real terms. The relationship between Prime Minister Muhammad Salem BaSundwah and President Hadi may not be a match made in heaven, but it is not a destructive one either. Outside influences on the Prime Minister are obvious, as he is the spokesperson for the opposition group the Joint Meeting Party (JMP), as part of the transition government. Everyone understands that although the JMP is fragmented at the moment, half of the ministers in government must protect the group in order to protect themselves. It still remains a difficult task to convince cabinet members to accept losses on their side of the camp. Whether the losses are on the civilian side, such as governors, or the military, neither the General People’s Congress (GPC) nor the JMP can accept huge losses at any one time. At the moment, reality points to all losses being one sided, and even though Gen. ʻAli Muhsin promises to resign and retire from government service, the GPC sees no movement against the opposition on the part of President Hadi, who is in fact the leader of the GPC as its Secretary General.

All of this balancing comes in the backdrop of demands by all sides to engage the process for National Dialogue. As prescribed by the GCC Initiative, the Dialogue process is meant to reconcile all sides, in particular the Southern Secessionist movement and the Huthi rebels in the north. Most in the opposition claim dialogue is moot without military restructuring, aimed at removing all influence from former president ʻAli ʻAbdullah Saleh and his relatives. But some, in diplomatic circles and within the party in majority in parliament (GPC) claim there cannot be any restructuring until the dialogue begins. We are back to square one, what comes first, the chicken or the egg? It seems even the United States has realized restructuring of the armed forces will take longer than expected, and this has led officials visiting Sanʻa to announce their support for the start of the Dialogue process even though the military is still relatively intact. If work is to be done inYemen, under relative stability, it will continue at a slow pace. As of April 11 President Hadi initiated new military operations against Ansar al-Shariʻah in the south (some units have refused the order). This will lead to further clashes around the country that have to be contained, at minimum, before the president’s next move regarding the armed forces or the National Dialogue. BaSundwah’s visit to Doha from April 9-11 may lead to further support from regional neighbors, but unfortunately his first announcement focused on support for the National Dialogue, not the economy or further pressure to be exerted on personalities on the list to leave the country. Further patience will be required if deeper fracturing of the armed forces is to be avoided, which could once again threatened a civil war scenario.

Breaking daggers

This week and last have brought few if any real developments in Yemen. Daily life for most Yemenis gets harder day by day, as water, fuel, and money run out. Politicians continue to bicker and play for points, and the remnants of the regime continue to lash out at their enemies. At present, we can see the regime using a few different kinds of violence. There is the violence of deprivation, experienced by people all over the country. In Arhab, Nihm, and Ta‘iz, Republican Guard units launch artillery barrages against civilian neighborhoods. In Abyan artillery is complemented by air strikes and ground attacks. In Lahj and 'Aden, it seems that regime agents may be responsible for sporadic, random incidents of gunfire and the like. In this post, I'm less concerned with detailing such acts of violence than with looking at the motivations behind them.

Essentially, I want to look at the regime's use of what anthropologists call "symbolic violence," what political scientists would refer to as "signalling." The best academic treatments of symbolic violence in Yemeni society can be found in Shelagh Weir's A Tribal Order and Steve Caton's Yemen Chronical. The basic point they make, in reference to uses of violence among Yemen's northern tribes, is that in the tribal context a violent act is usually intended primarily as a means of communication. This does not mean that the violence isn't "real," that people don't get hurt; rather, it means that the primary function of such violence isn't to harm or to kill, but to signal an intention or a demand.

To give a basic example: if a tribesman feels he has been wronged in some way by another tribesman, he may attack his enemy in a public place, where neutral bystanders will be present. He does this because tribal law, 'urf, forbids "ganging up" and requires bystanders to intervene in such a situation. He's not attacking because he wants to hurt or kill the other man, but because he wants a third party to mediate and provide him with redress for his grievances. The same principle applies to bigger acts of violence within the tribal system, even pitched battles or prolonged wars between tribal factions. People are hurt and killed in such events, but the violence always retains a symbolic and communicative dimension as well.

For most of Yemen's history, violence between the state and other segments of society has tended to follow these precepts as well, though some rulers have been more willing than others to use extreme force to subdue unruly subjects (Ahmad ibn Yahya Hamid al-Din, the last real Imam of Yemen, was one such ruler, and his violent tendencies were a big part of why he inspired the overthrow of the imamate). But violating the social norms of symbolic violence is also a symbolic act. 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh is a legendary violator of tribal law and social order; and much like Imam Ahmad, Saleh's crimes against these norms are directly responsible for the fact that he's now in a hospital bed covered with burns. And I believe that we can see in each of his crimes--each of his unacceptable uses of violence--a clear message to his opponents.

I'm not going to go too far back into the past in this blog post, because I tend to get a bit wordy as it is, but suffice it to say that the civil wars of 1994 and 2004-2010 were marked by excesses intended to send certain messages to Saleh's enemies and to outside observers. Here I'm just going to look at some of the regime's uses of violence since the start of the 2011 revolution--using two specific but representative examples--and what I think they mean.

On a number of occasions, forces directly answerable to the president have committed acts that are flagrant violations of Yemeni social codes of honor and decency. One that comes to mind, from mid-April, was the kidnapping of four female medical volunteers on their way to Change Square in San‘a. This one doesn't take much explaining: male security forces--maybe soldiers, maybe paid thugs--physically grabbed and abducted women, and not just women, but women doctors. Just in case violating Yemeni social codes wasn't clear enough, the act violates international laws, or at least norms, about the protection of medical aid providers in a conflict zone. This incident came a month after the Change Square massacre, at a time when the youth and other protesters were demonstrating their strength and resilience with great effect and the movement was drawing in new tribal and political allies by the minute.

The regime's intended message with this abduction was clear: Saleh and his security forces would make no consideration for decency in their campaign against protesters; they would combat the revolution without any concern for honor. In fact, the abduction signals clearly that regime intended to fight dishonorably. This message, I believe, was entirely deliberate. It was intended to intimidate, and to signal (especially to the tribal factions of the revolution) that the regime was not interested in an honorable process of negotiation or mediation.

In the tribal/traditional system (non-tribal segments of society, like sadah and qudah, historically adhere to the same system), all negotiation and mediation is based on a recognition of mutual honor. Although it seems like a strange thing to do, the regime's goal was to do the opposite of what warring parties are supposed to do: the regime sought to demonstrate that it was without honor, and thus could not be bargained with. The regime pursued the same tactic throughout the Sa‘dah wars of 2004-2010.

This message was sent most explicitly on the morning of May 23, when Saleh's forces shelled the home of Shaykh Sadiq ibn 'Abdullah al-Ahmar, the paramount leader of the Hashid confederation. To attack the private home of such a man, without provocation, is one of the most shameful crimes that one can commit. This, and the fact that attacks on al-Ahmar's compound were launched while a mediation committee was present (seriously, Saleh?), sent Saleh's message in the clearest possible terms: the regime was not interested in coming to terms. The revolution would be crushed, not negotiated with, and not mediated away. I should note that it was Imam Ahmad's assassination of Shaykh Sadiq's grandfather and uncle that swung the bulk of Hashid's weight behind the Republican movement last century.

While such acts of violence are reprehensible, and especially disgusting within the traditional Yemeni frame of reference, Yemen has certainly been overshadowed, in terms of the ferocity of its regime, by Syria, Libya, and, I believe, Bahrain. The regimes in these countries have shown no mercy and no restraint in attacking their opponents, and they have the military capability--for now--to demonstrate this lack of restraint. In Yemen, however, we've seen what looks like a greater level of restraint. Yes, there have been terrible and costly attacks on unarmed protesters, most clearly the May 29 Freedom Square massacre in Ta‘iz. But it could all have been much worse (though maybe not in Abyan. Things seem to be almost as bad as they can get there). So we have a regime that signals no respect for rights or for laws, but security forces that fail to destroy the regime's enemies. What accounts for this gap?

I argue that it is, in fact, the inability of Saleh's security forces to crush the revolution that necessitates such extreme symbolic violence. Saleh, and now his son Ahmad and nephew Yahya, knows that his men just aren't up to the task. The Yemeni military has never been a reliable institution, and its commanders know that if the Republican Guard and the Central Security forces are pushed too far, they will disintegrate. This is why these forces now favor artillery barrages and other indirect applications of force. Since May 29, there has been no ground assault against protesters, and I get the feeling that none of the regime's commanders would feel confident in ordering such an attack. So, the symbolic demonstrations of ferocity were intended to scare the regime's opponents precisely because the regime knew it couldn't match such symbolic acts with real, effective violence.

And for the record, it didn't work. But the violence expended in the effort has been only too real for thousands of Yemenis.

San‘a Bulletin #5

The fifth guest post by our anonymous friend in San‘a, this update focuses on the potential for an Islah hijacking of the protest movement. I'll share my own thoughts on this and other issues later this week. This past week we have witnessed events develop almost by the hour here in Sanaa (events in Aden, Amran, Hodeida and Taiz have also developed very rapidly).  The protests continue strong even after Shaykh Abd al-Majid az-Zindani’s intervention on Friday 1 March.  The rumors still abound concerning the conflicting relation between the original organizers of protests at Sana’a University’s main gate since the evening of 3 February.  The talk of the town is whether Islah has taken full control of the protests in Aden, Sana’a and Taiz through its Muslim Brotherhood wing.  Many in Sana’a comment on the differences between this group and the organization active in Egypt, where in Yemen the MB simply represents the right wing of the religious conservatives within Islah who represent policies such as the continued defense of early child marriage led by people like Shaykh Abdullah Satter. Many youth began to promise their withdrawal if demonstrations fell under stronger control of Islah, which has not officially announced any type of party policy aiming to control the protests in Sana’a or elsewhere.  But increasing presence of Islahi students and students from al-Iman University since Zindani’s speech gives everyone plenty to worry about.

Mobilizing Islahi members or sympathizers is a double edge sword for the original group.  On the one hand, Zindani’s weight brought in huge numbers at a vital point since 3 February, which helped increase pressure on Saleh.  The crowd mobilized by Islah was composed of Sana’a University students (mainly through the Student Association), al-Iman University (headed by Zindani) and tribal elements from the northern regions.  The direct involvement of Islahi students from Sana’a represents a direct challenge to the original group, many of whom are students at Sana’a University, so the hierarchy started to dominate.  Then students from al-Iman University, who have more experience and training (as some observers have mentioned) began to control the security perimeter set up from day one.  This is not a concern of decreased security for protesters, but rather more vigilance over who comes in to the area and what activities are engaged.  The main incident distinguishing Islah control of security over the original group was an incident last week where a young female activist and her male journalist friend were interrogated at the ‘security tent’ by Islahi students. The questioning concerned a survey distributed by the young activist.  As more information surfaced on this incident, some people indicated the survey was actually prepared by the president’s Information Advisor, Sufi, but it still remains unclear.

The main impact of Islahi influence is seen on the main stage.  It is now mostly controlled by Islahis to the point where music, for example, is now coordinated by them.  There is no more tribal music, which could primarily be credited with the lively spirit we witnessed all day long before Zindani’s speech. Now, most music is organized from groups with links to Suhail channel.  The newly set up Socialist corner, with pictures of Jar’allah Omar (assassinated Secretary General of Yemen’s Socialist Party), still tries to maintain Yemeni traditional music and poetry.

Adding to such fog, we now read about the increasing number of ruling party members resigning in protest against the president. Up until 4 March, when MP Ali A. al-Amrani (Baydha) announced his resignation on stage at Sana’a University, observers indicate many of the resignations were clearly genuine an with no other political agenda.  Most MPs resigning prior to al-Amrani were ordinary MPs truly concerned with issues of importance to the masses. But, in addition to such resignations, we now see a media myopic reporting on the number of government employees and MPs related to Shaykh Hamid Abdullah al-Ahmar.  Hamid’s brothers began to follow Hymiar’s (Dpty Speaker of Parliament) example as Hussain (between Sadeq and Hamid) resigned his post in the GPC and gave a strong speech before a huge crowd in Amran, then followed Hashid (Min. of Youth and Sport) and then their cousin Sam b. Yahya b. Hussain al-Ahmar ( Min. of Culture).  These resignations included others like Nabil al-Khamiri (married to Saba, Hamid’s sister) and the oil businessman Fat’hi Tawfeek AbdoRaheem (married to Anissa, Hamid’s sister).

Observers are disgusted by the media’s obsession with such personalities rather than focusing on the protests around the country.  Some people say the focus on al-Ahmar might have some positive consequences for the president.  If the media focus on the family then people will gain insight to their political aims, which do not carry much support south, west or east of Sana’a. The political game engaged by Bayt al-Ahmar might back fire, including the theatrics of canceling a press conference with Sadeq al-Ahmar and Zindani at the last minute.  Not only are the number of al-Ahmar family members involved in the regime on the surface and making the family look more a part of the regime, but also people begin to realize the individual ambitions within Bayt al-Ahmar and the distance from aims of masses on the streets.

According to observers…..

Why is Yemen like Egypt and Tunisia….?

  • the three decade old presence of a head of state
  • role of president’s family members within government and the economic
  • the presence of a dominant ruling party. The GPC becoming a ‘burden’ on the president

Why is Yemen not Egypt or Tunisia…?

  • Yemen is part of the Emerging Democracies Group.
  • Security forces maintained a mixed image in the north, but hated in the south (prior to protests)
  • The army is fragmented, unlike in Egypt or Tunisia, and therefore not a primary agent of change